Snakes in the City stars Simon Keys and Siouxsie Gillett visit India to shoot for season 9 in Mysuru

We spoke to the couple to know more about their first-ever experience in India, fascination and life with snakes
Snakes in the City Season 8 featuring Simon Keys and Siouxsie Gillett is now streaming on Nat Geo
Snakes in the City Season 8 featuring Simon Keys and Siouxsie Gillett is now streaming on Nat Geo

India is known for a lot of things – culture, art, food, and even pollution and population. But one thing that caught Nat Geo’s attention was snakes.

Yes, one of the most fearsome reptiles — which has been a muse for some of the most popular (and often hilarious) myths, movies, and soap operas — snakes are the source of livelihood and a passion project for Simon Keys and Siouxsie Gillett. The duo, who came to fame with Nat Geo’s Snakes in the City show, visited India for the first time to rescue snakes in Karnataka’s Mysuru. “We are currently in love with India. The snake volume here is wonderful for us,” said Siouxsie.  

“India is definitely a place I would like to come back to again. It is so diverse and there is something like 270 species of snakes in India… We are only going to scratch the surface on this show.

“India will definitely stay as one of the best countries in the world for reptiles,” Simon chimes in.

We spoke to the couple to know more about their fascination with snakes, their experience in India, and what life is like when you live and breathe with snakes every day.


You are shooting your latest season in India. What was your experience like?

Siouxsie: India has been amazing so far. It’s a very fascinating country. People are overwhelmingly nice and there are lots of snakes here.

Simon: Mysore also has snake catchers who help us when we go on call-outs to rescue animals. So nature-wise, Mysuru is pretty good for everything, especially for snakes and reptiles.

Did you see any unique types of snakes here?

Simon: Yes, we have. We’re aware of the more common ones like the spectacled cobra (also known as the Indian cobra or Naja Naja) and Russell’s viper which we couldn’t find in South Africa.

What is the most challenging thing you have had to face while rescuing snakes?

Siouxsie: We’ve had lots, I’ll be honest. Snakes never seem to be straightforward and end up in very crazy places… We have smashed kitchens down to find them. Temperatures in South Africa are very similar to India, so when you’re on somebody’s roof or in the attic, it is so hot and dangerous not only for the snake but for us as well.

Simon: We often get marbles (snakes) in ceilings and car engines. Trucks also make a nice hideout place as it is warm and out of the way of people, until the driver gets in and gets a fright!

Normally people look at snakes and they get scared and try to either kill them or run away. So what you guys are doing right now is very brave.

Siouxsie: I think education is the key here. The reason people fear snakes and lots of other things is just the concept of the unknown or not understanding the animal. So for us, we’ve got this wonderful platform to educate and it has changed attitudes around the world.

One of the fan mails read: “Old me would maybe kill the snake but now because of the show, we have learned that it’s not going to chase us or bite us or anything like that. If we leave it alone, the snake may settle off or there are many snake catchers out there that may help.”

In India, people seem to respect snakes. It’s actually a really refreshing and lovely attitude that we have encountered. Even in some of the religious beliefs, some of the figures we have seen have got cobras on them. It’s wonderful to see that snakes are being worshipped here. We’ve definitely come to the right country.

Simon: Yeah, I think India definitely has a better understanding and they’re kind of used to having snakes around. They respect the snake. People know that they need the snakes because they eat the mice and rats which spread diseases and eat the crops.

How did you first start with this docu-series? How were you approached?

Simon: When I emigrated to South Africa in 2005, I wasn’t sure what to do for a job. But I’d always kept snakes as a child and I had quite a lot of knowledge about it. So, I started rescuing snakes as a job for about seven years and whilst I was doing that our production company Earth Touch found out about me, and at the time it was my ex-wife, rescuing animals. They asked if we could do a little promo video of catching and rescuing the snakes. So one day, we rescued a spitting cobra whose tail was chopped off. A couple of years later, we got Season One. It just kind of went to National Geographic and it’s just grown bigger. I wasn’t looking to do that. It just happened.

Over the years, I and Siouxsie have rescued hundreds of snakes. The last time I counted was over 2,500 and that was a long time ago.

Siouxsie: It’s interesting that people who have snake fears seem to watch the show. We have (through fan mails) cured lots of phobias as well.

Did you guys meet during the show?

Siouxsie: We met prior to the show. Funny enough, we both kept venomous snakes in England and it's quite a small group of people that do that, it’s not everyone’s kind of ideal pet. So to speak, it’s just through the snakes that we met.

Have you been bitten before?

Simon: Once by a North American Copperhead viper in 2007. I was bitten on my index finger. It was very painful. After two weeks of being sick, my arms swelled up huge, there was no anti-venom available. So I just put up with it and ended up at the doctor's in the end because the pain is very intense. It’s like putting your arm into boiling water or fire.

Siouxsie, aren’t you allergic to venom?

Yes! I am not in the ideal job. So even something which we call mildly venomous for which people have no reaction to, I guarantee my hand will be swollen up. However my passion is so much about rescuing snakes, I am more cautious than I have been in the past. People have time to go to the hospital, I don’t have that luxury. I should rethink my profession but that’s not going to happen!

Are snakes difficult to maintain as pets?

Simon: Venomous snakes are dangerous. It needs to be respected. You need to know what you are doing. But generally, snakes are pretty easy to look after as long as you do the research. There are some that are difficult to maintain but there are a lot of easy ones as well. So for a child that wants to keep a pet snake, we always recommend something like a corn snake or a house snake.

Snakes in the City Season 8 is now streaming on Nat Geo.

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